2 Year Old Sleep Regression: Signs, Causes, & Survival Tips

by Tara Saltzburg

I think most moms and dads would agree that sleep training is one of the most challenging things for a parent. The first year is chock full o’ sleepless nights, break downs (likely for both you and baby), and copious amounts of extremely strong coffee. Babies go through many stages during the first year, so it makes sense that these changes would occasionally affect their sleep cycles. For most parents, there usually comes a time when you feel like you’re out of the woods, you’re in the clear - baby’s sleeping, I’m sleeping, life is good. But beware - these sneaky little kiddos lull us into thinking we’re the bomb and we’ve got this whole parenting thing figured out. The BAM! The 2 year old sleep regression hits.

Unfortunately, lots of little ones have sleep regressions around the two year mark. This toddler sleep regression is so common, in fact, that variations of the sentence “2 year old sleep regression” is searched on the internet over 10,000 times per month (you likely found this article by doing exactly that).

Well, they don’t call it the “terrible twos” for nothing! Here we’ll check out the signs and causes of sleep regression along with tips for surviving it. You might feel like you’re in the weeds right now, but you’ll get through it. Keep in mind that this regression will eventually pass AND it’s likely the last one you’ll face  🙌.

Article Contents:

Signs of the 2 Year Old Sleep Regression (Plus Survival Tips)

So what does the 2 year old sleep regression look like? What we’re talking about here is a sudden shift in the sleep pattern of a child who has previously been sleeping well. Hopefully, by the two year mark, children are falling asleep in their own bed and sleeping for 11-12 consecutive hours. So if you find that your little one begins to exhibit some of the following behaviors, welcome! You’re in the throes of a sleep regression.

Common signs include: trouble settling at bedtime, waking up throughout the night (& not being able to self-soothe back to sleep), using stall tactics at bedtime, resisting naps, getting out of bed and waking up too early.

The good news? This particular regression is usually the easiest to deal with and we’ll cover some 2 year old sleep regression solutions below.

It should be noted that it’s okay if kids wake up throughout the night. In fact, kids (and adults) usually awake anywhere from two to six times a night. According to Dr. Lynelle Schneeberg, a psychologist and the director of the behavioral sleep medicine program at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, issues arise when your child does not know how to independently fall back asleep.

6 Common Causes of the 2 Year Sleep Regression

There are loads of developmental and social changes that occur around the two year mark, and any number of factors could affect a child’s ability to sleep through the night. Here are 5 common causes of the two year old regression:

1. Separation Anxiety

At this age, it’s not uncommon for toddlers to start experiencing separation anxiety. Two year olds are becoming increasingly aware and they may become more nervous to be separated from their parents. They also may be afraid of being alone or simply missing out on the fun (Who doesn’t experience FOMO?!) while mom and dad are awake. Remember, she’s two! There’s lots of fun to be had!

Survival Tips:

At this time, it may be necessary to offer a bit more attention at bedtime so your little one can feel connected and safe as she drifts off to sleepyland. Your little one may also benefit from a transitional sleep object like a stuffed animal or blanket that allows him or her to understand that it’s time for some shuteye. It should be an object that stays in bed and can be used independently if she wakes up at night.

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2. Life Changes & Nap Changes

At two years old, many kids’ social calendars begin filling up with preschool and play dates, which can cause trouble in sleeping patterns. You may begin to experience some major nap resistance. Instead of sleeping, she’s talking, laughing, singing, or in some cases, screaming throughout nap time! As with separation anxiety, this sudden resistance to naps may be a result of FOMO! According to Dr. Scneeberg, the “two-year-old nap strikes usually happen because naps aren’t being offered consistently...your child starts to think naps are optional and stops sleeping—then you think he doesn’t need a nap anymore and let him drop it.”

The problem is that most kids don’t actually stop needing a nap until they’re 3, 4 and sometimes even 5 years old. So while your little one might seem like she’s okay without a nap, she might still benefit from some daytime shuteye.

Two year olds are also going through lots of life changes: potty training, transitioning to a big bed (more on that below), or perhaps a new sibling. Unfortunately, these life disruptions can lead to sleep disruptions.

Survival Tips:

Don’t give up the nap too early! Most two year olds need around 12 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, so use that to gauge if the nap is still necessary. In many cases it is, so stay consistent with the current schedule, even if it’s just implementing a “rest time” during the nap period. “Rest time” is a period where your put your little one in bed with a few books and toys and although it’s fine if she’s awake, she needs to stay in bed. This ensures that if she gets sleepy, she’s already well-positioned to fall asleep.

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3. Nighttime Fears

By age two, your toddler is becoming much more imaginative. Monsters, dark corners, ghosts, and boogie men are very real fears for a young child, especially once it gets dark and they’re alone in bed. Children at this age are becoming increasingly aware of the world and realizing that there are “bad guys” and other things that could hurt them. These fears can sometimes lead to disturbed sleep, nightmares, and even night terrors.

Survival Tips:

To little kids, these are very real, rational fears so it’s important to be patient and empathetic. Save the “there’s nothing to be scared of” talk; instead, tell them you understand their fear. Some parents have success with techniques like “monster spray”, but keep in mind that this can play into your child’s fear that these things are real. It might be better to frequently remind your child that monsters and ghosts are not real. If your child does not usually sleep with a nightlight, now may be a good time to start.

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4. Converting Too Early to a "Big" Bed

Making the move to a big kid bed from a crib where the space was smaller and more confined, may allow your little one to explore a newfound freedom, but it can also be daunting. It can lead to a sense of anxiety from losing the comfort of a tiny, confined bed and problems can occur once they realize they can easily get out of bed on their own. Parents are often eager to move two year olds to a big kid bed, but in many cases it may be too early. Of course, if she’s trying to climb the bars to escape the crib, you should transition for safety reasons.

Survival Tips:

Consider holding off on the big bed until it's necessary. When it's time, try to avoid an abrupt bed change. When transitioning to a big bed, show your toddler the “big kid” bed each night, but allow him or her the choice of which bed to sleep in until she’s completely comfortable making the move. A crib with a toddler conversion (where one side is removable but they can still have the confines of three other sides) is a great way to begin the transitional period.

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5. New Individuality

Two year olds are beginning to discover themselves and explore their own feelings. It’s not uncommon that they begin expressing their emotions and individuality while questioning your authority. Toddlers will often test your limits just because she’s becoming aware that she can! At this age, it’s important to be firm yet calm, while letting them feel empowered by the decision-making process.

Survival Tips:

Limits and boundaries are necessary and although it may not feel like it, your child craves them. Although children need these boundaries, they should also feel like they’re involved in the decision making process. Allow your little one to choose their own pajamas or a particular book they’d like to hear before bed. If you’re in a nap strike, use verbiage like “it’s your choice if you sleep or not, but you must rest your body to have the energy for the rest of the day”.

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6. Teething or Sickness

The last of the molars are coming through right around the age of two. Unlike teething of the central incisors and canines, which is usually more obvious (hands in the mouth and lots of drooling), these 2nd molars can be pretty quiet until bedtime and/or the middle of the night. Teething causes major discomfort and will often affect the quality of sleep. Luckily, these molars should be the last of teething!

Illness can also cause disturbances in the sleep cycle. Around this time, kids are usually picking up viruses from daycare or playdates, so it’s not uncommon for them to have a week or two of bad sleep.

Survival Tips:

Proactively providing pain reliever before bedtime might be a good idea. If your little one is teething or sick, it’s a good idea to prepare for a longer than usual bedtime; she’ll likely want a little extra TLC and attention before settling in!

Be sure to dress your little one in soft, lightweight pajamas that will allow the skin to breathe. This is always important, but even more so when she's sick.

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6 Toddler Sleep Tips

1. Keep It Cool & Cozy. A cooler environment is more conducive to shuteye, so keep the bedroom temperature somewhere between 64 and 67 degrees. Opt for super soft, tag-free pajamas that are lightweight and breathable. Our two piece sleep sets are perfect for toddlers because they're not too hot and not too cold - they're just right! 

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2. Avoid Bad Sleep Habits. The 2 year old sleep regression is tough for you and your toddler, so be patient and try to offer lots of extra cuddles, hugs, and TLC. Comforting your little one is important, but avoid forming bad sleep habits that you’ll have to undo later. Toddler sleep habits tend to develop quickly, so be mindful of the solutions you’re using to solve these temporary sleep problems. Allowing your little one to sleep in your bed or sleeping in your little one’s room may be okay on occasion, but it can quickly develop into something that your child expects. In general, it’s important that your child is still falling asleep (without much help from you) in his or her own sleeping space.

3. Settle Down Before Tucking In. If your want your little one to settle down, it’s important to create a calm environment even before transitioning to the bedroom. It’s a good idea to turn off all screens an hour before sleep and do calm activities like coloring or reading.

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4. Try Bedtime Meditation. Bedtime meditation is a great way to help kids settle before bed! Toddlers’ brains are constantly flooded with new stimulation and every day is a brand new learning experience. It’s not hard to understand why it can sometimes be hard to “switch off” racing thoughts at bedtime. An effective way to help children settle is employing bedtime meditation. There are lots of age-appropriate scripts that you can follow to help your little one calm down at the end of a long day.

Motherly shared seven short and sweet guided meditations that you may want to try.

Mind Body Green’s Erica Golub shared a super cute meditation called “Bedtime Balloons”. Also short, sweet, and perfect for toddlers.

For more on bedtime meditation and all of its benefits, check out “Kids Sleep Meditation".

5. Make Schedule Adjustments. You may need to make slight adjustments to your toddler’s schedule. If you need to incorporate more wake time in your child’s day, move the nap up slightly so that you allow more time between the end of the afternoon nap and bedtime.

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6. Be Patient. Patience is extremely important during the 2 year old sleep regression. Your child takes cues from you, so if you show frustration, she will also become frustrated, making it even harder to settle. Sleep regressions don’t go away overnight, but if you’re consistent with the tactics that you use, your little one should fall back into a regular bedtime routine within a couple of weeks.

Summary

The 2 year old sleep regression can be a doozy. Just when you think you’ve got sleep training figured out, your little one will likely throw this massive curveball your way. The good news is that it’s usually the last of the sleep regressions AND it’ll likely be the easiest to deal with!

Your little one’s new sleep disturbance can be the result of any number of things. Some of the most common causes of this regression are separation anxiety, disruptive life changes, nighttime fears, transitioning to a big bed, newfound individuality, teething and sickness. It can be easy to develop bad sleep habits during this regression, so be mindful of the tactics you’re using and keep them consistent. Create a calm environment before bedtime and perhaps give meditation a try! Meditation may allow your little one to settle down - it works for my son! In fact, he looks forward to it. If necessary, make schedule adjustments, but keep in mind that a little extra patience and TLC is the most important thing for getting through this temporary rough patch. And you will get through it.

XO, Tara
Got some other survival tips? Share them in the comments below!

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Sources:

https://www.babysleepsite.com/toddlers/5-things-about-2-year-old-toddler-sleep/

https://sleepcoachsarah.wordpress.com/2015/10/14/the-2-year-old-sleep-regression-they-dont-call-it-the-terrible-twos-for-nothing/

https://amotherfarfromhome.com/2-year-old-sleep-regression/

https://www.todaysparent.com/toddler/toddler-sleep/how-to-deal-with-toddler-sleep-regressions/

https://www.thepragmaticparent.com/common-reasons-behind-the-two-year-sleep-regression/

https://fabulousfarmgirl.com/diy/monster-spray/

https://www.westynbaby.com/blogs/westyn-baby/kids-sleep-meditation-so-good-youll-want-to-try-it-too

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